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Attempt to de-mystify and simplify Tone Production

Nicola Martino

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Published: June 25, 2014 at 5:35 AM [UTC]

I've been thinking a lot about what is lacking in my playing, and I realize that I've practiced mostly repertoire and left-hand exercises. I think that what is lacking is right-hand skill, and so I should work on my right hand. Another reason why I'm not improving in my tone production is my cheap metal strings ($5), which are blocking the result I should be getting, therefore making me think and hear no improvement when I attempt to practice tone production.

I began reading articles about tone production, and I've always thought that good tone is something so difficult to attain that it would take a violinist a lifetime to reach the peak. But after reading an article, I realize that I have what the pros have, it's just that they can even out the components of weight and speed a lot longer on each stroke and use the appropriate mix of both on different parts of the string.

I think tone production has been OVER-MYSTIFIED.

Every famous violinist can create pressure and draw the bow faster on different sound points.
This is all that the best violinists have and all they need to make a GOOD TONE. I also have it, it's just that the best violinists have learned to mix those three ingredients well: the right balance of weight, speed and sound point.

I'd like to start a scientific discussion on this matter. To simplify tone production as much as possible. Correct me if I'm wrong, but everything I've written here is simply what I understand from my own studies.

From what I understand, speed and weight are the same, weight is a vertical force while speed is a horizontal force.

We violinists vibrate the string horizontally but with the involvement of the vertical force(weight). It pushes the string down, as a result, the string vibrates in a circular manner.

The speed of the bow determines the loudness of the string while the weight determines the Maximum loudness the string can attain and to achieve a good tone, one has to keep appropriate 100% speed and 100% weight on that certain point of the string. Any less or more of these 2 components will affect the tone.

-Too much weight can decrease the maximum cycles of vibration because it's producing more "clicks but not followed bite-and-snap" thus producing a sound what we describe as crushed/stopped sound.

-Less weight can also decrease the maximum cycles of vibration because the string can go around in more cycles before being catched or bitten by the hair again thus producing softer/airy(skidding) sound. The following cycles of vibration is also weaker compared to the initial cycle of the string. I can imagine the string cycle of vibration goes like this:

Bitten - Snap - Vibrate widely - Less widely - moderately wide - narrow - Bitten - Snap (and repeat)
The weaker the vibration of the string, the more it is prone to get bitten again because it gives less resistance. Then we describe this sound as weak/not full/soft/not loud, etc.

ANALYSIS 2: (I think this is just a parallel depiction of the 1st analysis)
-Too much speed(less weight) without the appropriate weight can lessen the maximum vibration as well because the string goes into more cycles without being bitten ASAP by the hair because there is less weight.

-Less speed(too much weight) results into crushed tone because there isn't enough speed to make the string vibrate again. What is happening is there is a lot of dead air going on because the hair catches the string too soon and the speed is too slow resulting to a slow dragging of the string for a snapback. I could imagine this is what is happening:

Catch/Bitten - snap - Vibrate widely - Widely - Catch/Bitten - Dragging - Dragging - Snap - (and repeat)

Then again we describe the "too early catch" as crushed sound and the "slow dragging" part as not a full tone.

I don't know to explain it better than this.

The last component is the soundpoint.

I haven't fully understood the relation the soundpoint yet, all I know that that soundpoint can have increase the maximum volume but when it regards it the "COLOR", different "TASTE/SOUND/TONE" that that certain soundpoint can produce, I don't know.

What I believe now is that Soundpoint COLORS is a Myth, or maybe, it is the "uneven" balance of BS and BW that causes these colors. But I do hear a color on different sound point, I can't explain it and I think my mind is toying with what i hear and what i believe.

I hope somebody can connect this matter to the sound point side.

I also wanted to ask if this Helmholtz Motion is what makes the "good tone"

Here is the link to that article. Very Worthy of reading.

Thinking too hard,

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 1:19 AM
1. Weight and speed are not the same.
2. Soundpoint is related to loudness.
3. It is mystical because there is no limit to the creativity achieved with the bow.
4. Bow is EVERYTHING and you are wasting your time with the left hand stuff. Without making your sound, who cares what you can do with the left hand? If you can't get the sound right, take up piano.

If you want a really loud sound you have to move towards the bridge. Unless you want that weird sound you get at the fingerboard when pressing hard. But you have to be more precise at that close position.

From Liz Brown
Posted on June 26, 2014 at 11:03 AM
Hi Nicola,

Yes, the Helmholtz Motion is the motion the string makes when it is vibrating as it has been designed to work, and when the string moves in that way you get the best tone. It's not something that players think about though, it's just the physics behind how the bow/string combination work.

One of the best exercises for tone production is playing REALLY slowly. Drawing your bow it's whole length as slowly as possible. If you listen carefully you'll probably hear a slight wobble to the tone and the volume will probably not be even across the bow length. The aim is to control your arm enough to get rid of the tonal wobbles and the volume variations. It doesn't particularly matter which soundpoint you use but you might as well start where your violin naturally sounds best and go from there.

On the topic of soundpoints - a general rule of thumb is that closer to the bridge you can play louder with more weight.

Another thing is to think about is how you put weight into the string You don't want to press down on the string and crush the sound. You want the weight to be flexible, to come from the relaxed weight of your arm, not from tension - pressing - onto the string.

Hope that's not telling you stuff you already know.

From Nicola Martino
Posted on June 26, 2014 at 12:18 PM
Hi Liz,

Thank you for giving me such great inputs. I already know some of it but it helps me to feel reassured that we have the same thought.
So scientifically saying, Helmholtz Motion is the thing to go for?
But for simplicity's sake, a good tone is neither crushed nor airy or hollow.

I've been doing Son File without knowing my objective, i simply know that i should make it sound good at any sound point, but the moment if hear variations in volume,tone quality and feel tension, I immediately go back to checking my right arm basics which causes me not to finish my Son file exercise. Now i know that it's not achievable at first to keep the tone even at all parts. So Son file is designed to show us how we fail to keep the appropriate weight and speed even on that sound point.

From Liz Brown
Posted on June 26, 2014 at 1:54 PM
You also probably know that another thing to check when playing son file is that you aren't bowing from the shoulder, which results in the bow changing its position on the string. As you draw the bow the tip forms an arc rather than a straight line perpendicular to the strings, which tends to make the bow skate over the string (towards the scroll - changing the soundpoint) rather than biting properly (not Helmholtz motion) and hence you get a variety of tone and generally not a great sound.

From Carmen Tanzio
Posted on June 26, 2014 at 4:32 PM
This is one of those subjects where a detailed scientific understanding serves to further mystify rather than demystify. So let me offer some practical advice that you can use while practicing.

First, the following link is an excellent, detailed discussion of the parameters of bowing from a practical point of view. You might want to start there to give you a bunch of things you can actually try while practicing.

Here is a quick rundown of bowing and sound point:

The string is much more flexible towards the fingerboard than the bridge. So it cannot bear much bow pressure before choking. As a result, fewer overtones can be excited when bowing there.

Near the fingerboard = more speed, less pressure, mellow and soft sound

Near the bridge = less speed, more pressure, bright and loud sound

What I suggest you try is getting hold of open string rhythm exercises and practice them at:

1. Near the finger board, in the middle, and near the bridge
2. Try each sound point with fast speed and high pressure, medium pressure, low pressure.
3. Try each sound point with medium speed and high pressure, medium pressure, low pressure.
4. Try each sound point with slow speed and high pressure, medium pressure, low pressure.

You will quickly understand what is needed at each sound point AND how the color (timbre) of the notes change both with the sound point and with changes in bow speed and pressure.

The timbre of a note DOES change dramatically with sound point and no amount of adjusting of the bow speed and pressure is going to get one to mimic the other. Different sound points simply cannot handle the same range of pressure and speed as the others.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on June 26, 2014 at 8:25 PM
Check out Simon Fischer's DVD "The Secrets of Tone Production". It describes these issues in detail, and provides exercises for developing control of speed, pressure, and sound point. After watching it my tone was noticeably better.
From Nicola Martino
Posted on June 27, 2014 at 3:12 AM

Yes, i am quite averagely satisfied with my straight bowing.
I think this is the default on the violin string. From fingerboard to bridge.
Light - dark tone
Light - Heavy tone
Small - Big tone

Carmen Tanzio,

I think you're trying to tell that there are default combination of BW and BS in different sound points and a violinist can only fluctuate the BW and BS on a considerable margin before it sound airy or crushed. Is that right?

So in actual playing, i have to change sound point for every passage that suits the music by using the croocked bow technique to change soundpoints, like if the music suddenly enters a pp passage, then i should slightly angle my bow to cause it to slide towards the finger board and if the passage suddenly requires an FF, i should move to the bridge.

I also consider that my idea of changing sound points is not possible at all times and i not the default in playing different dynamics but should a violinist change soundpoints IF POSSIBLE when dealing with dynamics or is it just for the sake of personal preference of 'color selection'?

I also have the idea of "if the soundpoint cannot follow the required loudness or softness then i should change sound point"
Since a certain sound point has it's own margin of volume where it can produce a certain volume with good tone. am i right?

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